The Dreaded Job Interview

Job Interview by billstrain

The job interview. Chances are, if you’ve ever had a job in your life, you’ve had a job interview. Most people find them stressful. I’m one of them. The last job interview I had was a phone interview and I was so nervous before the call I thought I might pass out before my phone actually rang.

A quick google search will leave you with countless “best and worst interview questions” lists or tips for a successful interview. The truth is, it’s a bit of a crap-shoot. Interviews depend largely on the interviewer’s abilities and their interview style. You never really know what you’re in for.

One of the toughest interview questions I’ve ever had to answer was many years ago when I was interviewing for a management position. The interviewer asked, “Every manager has a defining moment. What was yours?” I honestly couldn’t think of one. I asked to skip it and come back to it. I asked her to elaborate. She insisted that every manager had a defining moment and would not proceed with the interview until I came up with something. I hummed and hawed for a minute or two and then basically made something up — I mean, it was real, but I didn’t think it was a defining moment for me — I just knew that the she wasn’t going to move on without some kind of answer. I ended up getting the job so I guess it was a good enough answer. But in a way, I felt like it was a dishonest answer because I didn’t believe it to be true.

Questions that put people on the spot like that aren’t necessarily the best questions. Interviews are a funny thing. They’re required for pretty much every job out there — and I don’t particularly have any earth shattering ideas for an alternative — but I honestly don’t think that what we ask of people in interviews gives us a true picture of who they are. We put them on the spot, make them come up with contrived answers to weird questions — not everyone works well under those circumstances. I certainly don’t. Not everyone is super-confident, not everyone is quick on their feet, not everyone is a confident speaker and these things are not required for many jobs. People who “do well” in interviews often have a certain skill set that isn’t even relevant to the job to which they are applying.

What do any of us do when we have an issue, problem, or are faced with a tough work question? I look it up, I talk to colleagues or others in the same industry, or I give it some thought. It’s not often, in my current role or many of the roles that I’ve had in the past, that I have to make a quick decision on the spot, or had to do anything even remotely close to what I’ve been expected to do in an interview: answer questions quickly, correctly, and with confidence, with a complete stranger, in an unfamiliar setting, probably knowing fairly little about the company other that what I’ve read on the internet.

And then there are the really dumb questions. I can’t stand the “strengths/weaknesses” question. I’ve had to ask it as an interviewer (when following a specific format) and it always made me cringe to ask it. Generally, everyone gives a prepared answer and it’s often them trying talking about their strengths in disguise. I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, when I think about my own strengths and weaknesses honestly, I really do think they’re related. For example, I’m organized and particular about how I do things. I follow up. I make lists. I am meticulous. The other side of that coin is that sometimes I become so focussed on getting something done and checking it off my list, that I get bogged down in details that are inconsequential. I am so determined to get it done that I lose sight of the big picture. So, I think when people talk about their weaknesses as strengths in disguise, there can be some merit to it. However, we frown upon these types of answers.

What constitutes a “good” interviewer is another complicated question entirely. The interviews I’ve liked best and the ones I feel like I’ve done the best on are those that follow a natural flow and where I’ve felt at ease with the interviewer. I presented a much truer image of myself. But we know that when interviews follow a structured format, the questions are well thought out and relevant to the job, and all of the applicants are asked the same questions, the interviews are less subjective, and they’re better predictors job performance. What’s an HR practitioner to do?

What is the best or worst interview question you’ve ever been asked? Do you think job interviews are a good way to determine the best candidate to hire?

Image “Job Interview” by Bill Strain via Flickr. Creative Commons licence 2.0.

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